Even though two teams ranked ahead of Ohio State last week lost on Saturday, the Buckeyes didn’t move up at all in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.
As LSU only fell to No. 7 despite suffering its second loss of the season to Alabama, and West Virginia jumped up to No. 9 after its win over Texas this past weekend, Ohio State remains 10th in the race to make the four-team playoff field.
There’s still a lot that can happen in the next four weeks of football, and the Buckeyes have at least two opportunities remaining on their schedule for resume-boosting wins. It’s clear at this point, though, that the Buckeyes have some serious ground to make up in the eyes of the committee.
At the No. 10 spot, Ohio State is the lowest-ranked team among six Power 5 teams with only one loss. No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 8 Washington State and No. 9 West Virginia are all ranked higher despite also having one losses, and LSU is ranked ahead of the Buckeyes – as well as the Cougars and Mountaineers – even though the Tigers have two losses.
College Football Playoff chairman Rob Mullens said on a teleconference Tuesday night that the Buckeyes failed to move up in the rankings because of their lack of a convincing victory in their 36-31 win this past weekend against Nebraska, which came just one game after their 49-20 loss to Purdue.
“They did struggle a bit against a 2-7 team, and that’s two weeks in a row that they’ve struggled a little bit,” Mullens said. “They still have a quality win over Penn State on the road, they beat TCU in Texas when TCU was at full strength, but the last couple of weeks, Ohio State hasn’t been as strong as they were in the middle part of the year.”
Rob Mullens, chair of the #CFBPlayoff selection committee, caught up with @ESPN_ReceDavis following the announcement of this week's College Football Playoff rankings! @ESPN @ESPNCFB— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) November 7, 2018
While the Buckeyes have won eight of their nine games this season, they haven’t won the eye test in recent weeks. Even before their loss to Purdue, they weren’t particularly impressive in their 30-14 win over Minnesota and 49-26 win over Indiana, two teams whose records are just 4-5 this season.
Here’s the good news for the Buckeyes: If they can win on the road this Saturday at Michigan State, who is now ranked 18th in the CFP rankings are being unranked last week, that should be viewed as another quality win in the eyes of the committee. If the Buckeyes can beat Michigan in their regular season finale on Nov. 24, that will help their resume even more.
In between, it would certainly help the Buckeyes to be dominant at Maryland on Nov. 17, considering that the Terrapins are just 5-4 this season.
The bad news for the Buckeyes is that even if they beat Michigan, it’s only guaranteed that two other teams will lose in front of them (Alabama plays Georgia and Oklahoma plays West Virginia).
Would two wins over teams that are currently ranked and a Big Ten Championship Game win – which is, of course, much easier said than done, especially considering the level at which Michigan is playing right now – be enough for Ohio State to vault up six spots from where it is now?
It wouldn’t be unprecedented. Ohio State was ranked just 14th in the second week of College Football Playoff rankings in 2014, and of course, the Buckeyes went on to earn the fourth spot in the playoff field and win the national championship.
In 2015, Oklahoma was ranked 12th and Michigan State was ranked 13th in the second week of rankings before going on to earn spots in the playoff field.
In each of the last two years, however, all four teams that have made the College Football Playoff have been ranked within the top five by the second week of playoff rankings.
With No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame all undefeated and all but guaranteed to make the playoff if they win out, there could be only one spot available to the Buckeyes even if they can make a leap in the rankings.
Their top competition for that spot appears likely to be whoever wins the game between Oklahoma and West Virginia on Nov. 24, if that team also wins out and wins the Big 12 Championship Game, and Washington State if it wins out and wins the Pac-12 Championship.
Even though LSU is still ranked No. 7 right now – Mullens said Tuesday that the Tigers remained that high because they currently have the most wins over top-25 teams (No. 5 Georgia, No. 16 Mississippi State, No. 24 Auburn) – it would come as a surprise if they remained above a 12-1 Big Ten champion Ohio State team when they can finish with a record of no better than 10-2 (Alabama has already clinched the SEC West title).
Likewise, it would come as a surprise if Georgia lost the SEC Championship Game and remained ahead of Ohio State (though Georgia winning out could be a death spell for the Buckeyes, as Georgia and Alabama would likely both make the playoff if both finish with just one loss).
It’s far from a foregone conclusion – and perhaps not even considered likely at this point – that Ohio State will win the remainder of its regular-season games, considering how impressive Michigan looks coming off a 42-7 win over Penn State. Right now, the Buckeyes need to just focus winning on each of their remaining games of the schedule, because the playoff conversation will be irrelevant to them if they don’t.
That said, it would certainly help their cause if they can make a statement with a convincing win over Michigan State on Saturday, because simply winning out – even with a looming date against the Wolverines – might not be enough for Ohio State if it can’t convince the committee that it’s a better team than it’s looked so far.